Friday, December 29, 2017

Labour & Pop Culture: Growing mockery of austerity

There has been a shift in public policy debate over the past few years away from consensus that austerity is a viable economic strategy. There was never full consensus but certainly media coverage privileged austerity.

Now there is legitimate (sometimes even informed) debate about issues such as the minimum wage and government deficits. One interesting development is the increasing degree of public mockery aimed at (1) austerity fan-boys and (2) biased media reporting. Often this takes the form of fact-checking memes like the one on the right.

An example, although not the funniest one I’ve seen, is a recent Beaverton spoof of a news-segment debating Ontario’s minimum wage increase.

The pro side is represented by a reasoned and articulate poverty activist while one of the hosts curries favour with a Joe-Sixpack guest who is given equal airtime despite having clearly stupid opinions. It is chillingly like watching local news. Here is another, funnier article along the same lines.

While I couldn't find any research on the topic, my impression is that when your talking points become punch-lines (e.g., tidewater, war on Christmas), your side is losing.

Greater debate is also occurring in more reputable alternative news sources. The magazine Alberta Views has recently commenced a new feature (“dialogues”) to trigger meaningful public policy debate. Two authors are given a topic, write opposing position pieces and then short rebuttals. These are then sent to a panel of interested readers for analysis.

These dialogues will run every issue of 2018 and include topics such as the rightful role of government, the pros and cons of debt, urban vs rural virtues, the right to strike, costs vs benefits of local food, and oil sands: expand or shrink.

The two that I have seen so far have been interesting: when traditionally leftist and rightist arguments are pitted against one another, the leftist argument clearly and decisively wins. I’m not sure this kind of debate will affect individual’s opinions. But transferring into biting satire, such debates may shift the public discourse and opinion. 

-- Bob Barnetson

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